It’s strange how as a female, so much of my identity was defined by my hair.
When I was 14, I became absolutely obsessed with my locks – products, extensions, colours…I was a chameleon and I loved it. When I was 16, I told my Mum that I wanted to be a hairdresser (it was a short lived dream) and when I was 20 I decided I wanted to create my own hair-care brand (I didn’t).
Despite these phases, the way my hair looked and felt remained the core of my identity. However, the relationship I have with it today has been somewhat of a challenge.
At University, I suffered stress-induced Alopecia. I had spent the summer at my home in Buckinghamshire during the holidays and unfortunately the toxic environment of living with my step-mum sent my body into meltdown. It was a devastating experience to lose so much hair and have a bald-patch at the back of my head as a 21 year old, and meant that I missed almost a complete term of my course, as I was too self-conscious to attend my classes – the curse of a vanity driven Fashion degree. I tried every trick under the sun to try and encourage the hair to grow back, and of course in time, it did.
Although I have always neglected my hair with bleach and heat tools, I’ve always considered it the most important part of my image. I was well-known for constantly changing my hair colour and was instantly identifiable for my silver strands. Just as I thought I was back to having wonderful, long hair again after a few years of letting it do its thing – in comes Crohn’s Disease.
Before getting sick, I didn’t know too much about the body. I didn’t know how intrinsically connected everything was, and how important certain things were in order to ensure health. As I began to experience flare up after flare up, I noticed my hair starting to thin out. I brought this up with my consultant at the hospital, who educated me that hair follicles run on a 3-month cycle, and therefore the hair-thinning effects that I was seeing was a result of a flare up some months earlier. Such an eye-roll – that even when I was feeling ‘healthy’, my body was punishing me to what had happened several weeks beforehand.
Later, I was prescribed Azathioprine, a strong immunosuppressive medication. From reading the length and terrifying ‘side effects’ leaflet that comes with this, I learned that hair loss was a possible side effect. Fan-fucking-tastic, I thought. My hair falling out seemed to be this impending grey cloud that always hovered above, to which I was never sure when it was about to absolutely piss it down to rain on my parade. Regardless, I accepted this as a treatment option, with the idea that I would ‘assess the situation’ as it happened.
Guess what? My hair fell out. It started by coming out in chunks into my hands, which left me with tiny bald spots all over my head. In a panic, I booked myself in to have extensions glued to my hair the following week – which in hindsight, was a bloody awful idea as this only weighed down the few strands of hair I had left! When it came to take the extensions out, what I was left with was borderline devastating, and in a blur of madness (I am a stupidly impulsive person) I cut what I had left into a short bob. I had not had my hair that short in 10 years, and I hated it. I hated how I looked in the mirror, I hated how I felt and I hated the fact that I was going through this due to a disease that I didn’t ask for and worsened by a medication that was meant to make me ‘better’.
Let’s fast forward and talk about today. Having been on Azathioprine for 6 months, I decided to come off medication all together, as I was unhappy with the side effects it was having on my body. Today, I have been medication-free for 5 months and guess what? My hair is still falling out. Loads. In the shower. In my hands. In my brush. Everywhere. I can’t even blame immunospressants anymore, all I can blame now is my battle with Inflamamtory Bowel Disease, and yet there isn’t a lot I can do about that.
Rather than moan, though, let’s talk about what I can do.
I’ve been medicine-free for 5 months and have not yet (touch wood) had a flare and I am managing daily life fine.
I now use salon brands on my hair (at a bloody extortionate price – there is nothing more devastating than seeing a blob of £16 conditioner fall through your fingers and down the plug…) I use Olaplex 3 on my hair once a week as a hair mask and do a coconut oil hair mask once a week too.
I have just invested in castor oil, vitamin C tablets, iron tablets, folic acid tablets and B12 capsules.
I am broke as hell, but I am trying. Trying to gain back some power over my body image, trying to gain back some power over this bloody disease. IBD does not define me, but sadly, I’ve always relied heavily on my image defining me – vain, I know. Whilst I am trying to take positive steps in the right direction to help these baby follicles as much as I can, it also takes a lot of personal strength and power to re-align some internal priorities and not feeling dependant on my appearance to carry me forward as an individual.
What I am trying to say is – losing your hair is hard. Be it through illness, genetics, medication or bad luck, it is not an easy feat and something that is massively underestimated until you experience it first hand. As with all things I have learnt about myself and life over the last few years – you either lose control or take control. And honey, I am alllll about control!